Crete culture arts and crafts

Culture arts and crafts Crete

As in much of Greece, the people in the past were self-sufficient with regards to much of their food and the tools, implements and artefacts that were required for both everyday and more specialised use. These skills were developed over generations, passing from the old to the young. Traditionally, women were taught from an early marriage to become skilled at producing textiles for the home, building up a complete dowry in preparation for her future marriage. The skills of men revolved around their agricultural and domestic chores, producing artefacts that would make their lives more efficient as well as decorative and affording protection of their families. Nowadays, most people in Crete are as inept at producing these goods as the rest of their western European neighbours. The art, however, still exists in a few skilled craftspeople who produce wonderful goods which are now mostly sold in the tourist industry.

Basket weaving

basket weaving in  creteBasket weaving is an element of the Cretan local folk tradition. The agricultural work of the Cretan motivated them to develop the skill of basket weaving to make their chores easier. Natural reeds and grasses were picked from the surrounding areas and woven into original and attractive designs.


clay jars from creteAs above, clay jars and pots were created due to necessity and over time evolved to include more decorative ornamental artefacts. Traditionally made from a local hard material, Cretan pottery is famous for its beautiful original design and resistance to high temperatures which enabled it to be used for cooking. The tradition of producing ceramics in Crete goes back to the dawn of time but was still a thriving industry until fairly recently. At the beginning of the 20th century, four pottery centres (one in each prefecture) were established on the island. In the two largest centres the potters formed themselves in guilds and seasonally migrated to different regions of the island to exploit the raw materials necessary to produce the best pots. These migrations were known as "vendema". The most famous and largest potters" centre in Crete is in Thrapsano in Iraklion. Indeed, the name of the village comes from the Greek word "thrapsala" or potsherds which were found in abundance around the kilns. The potters of Thrapsano were acknowledged by all Cretan potters as having perfect skill and artistry. However, as a consequence of the vendemes, coupled with cheaper mass produced goods, the demand began to wane by the 1960s. Fortunately tourism as led to an increase in demand and many potters have rebuilt kilns and renewed production to meet this demand. Other important centres are Margarites in Rethymno, Nohia in Chania and Kentri in Lerapetra. All of these, however, virtually ceased production in the early 1960s.

Wood Carving

wood carvingThe traditional art of wood carving or wood sculpture is very important in Crete and, in the past, many beautiful items of religious art were produced on the island. Today, many of the icons, icon stands, pulpits, candlesticks and other religious artefacts still decorate the churches around the island. Sadly the skill is slowly disappearing as sons chose other more lucrative occupations and refused to take over the skills from fathers and grandfathers. The few that can still be found use their talents to produce mostly musical instruments although, in the mountainous regions, you can find examples of local production of small items such as forks, spoons, fabric stamps, etc. Keeping this tradition alive however is the new Wooden Sculptures Museum at the foot of Mt. Psiloritis which operates both as a museum and a workshop and has a permanent collection of the work of wood sculptor, George Koutantos.

Metal Work and Knife Making.

The Ancient Greeks considered metallurgy an important art that was sacred to the gods and demigods and during the Second Byzantine Period this skill developed considerably producing beautiful iron tools and fittings, heavily influenced by Byzantine art. With the arrival of the Venetians and then again under Turkish domination the import of iron was heavily controlled leading to a reduction in output. The Cretan artisan had limited supplies of material but used what was available to produce objects to meet their everyday needs, in particular agricultural tools and knives. The latter constitutes a great tradition in Cretan folk art. The island's troubled history required the local inhabitants to be constantly armed in order to protect their freedom. The majority of Cretan knives have an elegant design with a curved handle embellished with silver or animal horn. The razor sharp steel blade is protected with a sheath of either wood, leather or silver depending upon the status of the owner. Today, the tradition of the Cretan knife can only be seen as part of the traditional Cretan costume in museums or during special festival days.

Traditional Textiles

 weavingThe women of Crete are renowned for their skills in weaving and embroidery, and until fairly recently, every old traditional Cretan house contained a vertical or upright loom where the women spent much of their time producing the necessary textiles for the family. Today, few women choose this as an occupation but there is still enough production taking place to meet local and tourist demands. The designs are of beautiful colours and of striking geometrical patterns that are unique to Crete. This type of design originated from the Byzantium period, probably coming to Crete in the C11th. Patterns were passed down from one generation to the next; from the nobility to the common folk and passing therefore into the traditional folk heritage of Crete. Today these unique patterns adorn textiles used for both household and decorative purposes ranging from bedspreads, wall hangings, sofa covers, cushions and clothing as well as saddle cloths and saddle bags used by Cretan farmers and shepherds until quite recently. The materials used are wool, flax, cotton and silk which are dyed (often red) by the weavers themselves.  .